Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines abuse as “to treat so as to injure or damage.” That definition and action can apply to most any type of abuse in existence. Black eyes and being hit and pushed around is often the first image that springs to mind when you hear the word “abuse.” One may picture a young wife hiding bruises behind large sunglasses or wearing long sleeves to cover fingerprint bruises left by her husband. Such physical abuse is indeed dangerous, injurious, and damaging in more ways than physical. But physical violence isn’t the only manner of abuse, men aren’t the only abusers, and women aren’t the only victims.
Abuse put upon one person from another is usually about control. The abuser wants to control his or her victim whether it be physically, through emotional and mental manipulation or even sexually.
There are several “symptoms” of abuse and certain ways the abuser wants his or her victim to feel:
- Like you can’t do anything right.
- They are possessive of your activities, they don’t want to share your time or attention.
- They want you to feel shame.
- The abuser controls the finances. If they can control your money, they can control many aspects of your life.
- They take away your decision-making power.
- They will scare or intimidate you.
- They will often pressure you for physical intimacy.
Emotional abuse is something felt but not really seen. There are no outward bruises or scars, but the pain is still powerful and the abuse just as damaging. The abuser sets out to control his or her victim with manipulation and belittling.
- Diminishing one’s accomplishments.
- Being suspicious of the victim’s behavior and accusing them of wrongdoing (often infidelity).
- Attempting to make the victim feel worthless and useless.
- Denying affection as a means of manipulating the victim’s behavior.
- Talking and arguing in circles; denying they said or did things; acting as if the victim is terribly confused and sometimes twisting circumstances and details to the point the victim starts to question their own thoughts.
- Controlling the victim’s clothing and cosmetic choices.
Sexual abuse can occur in any person of any age. According to RAINN, 44% of victims of sexual abuse are under the age of 18. Startlingly, 98% of rapists will never spend time in jail. Victims are, in many instances, afraid to report such abuse for several reasons: shame; fear they won’t be believed; they believe not reporting it will enable them to “forget” more quickly. Sexual abuse can happen to a child by a family member, a young adult on a date, by a stranger or even within a marriage or relationship. Some types of sexual abuse include:
- Being insulted sexually with name calling.
- Forcing sex or being held down during what began as consensual sex.
- Demanding sex when the other party is not interested.
- Disregarding your desires and not respecting the boundaries of the relationship.
- Bargaining for sex or telling you that you “owe” the abuser; making you feel as though you’re obligated.
- Veiled threats if you don’t comply.
Abuse can be very isolating. Some victims blame themselves. If they’re being abused by a mate, they sometimes feel they deserve the treatment. After all, they chose to be with this person. Or the abuser may intimidate his or her victim, especially a child. Understand this: you are never to blame for abuse you have suffered. Never.
The abuse sometimes occurs because the abuser him or herself has been abused. However, not all people who were previously abused go on to abuse others. Sometimes when the abuser hasn’t properly dealt with being abused themselves, they pass along the behavior. Sometimes, they take on the role of controller and manipulator because they were once controlled and manipulated. It can be a defense mechanism of sorts. Mental health issues may be at the root of some abuse. Drugs or alcohol may be involved and enabling the abuser’s poor behavioral choices.
If you’re being abused or suspect that someone else is, seek help. Doing so might be frightening. Don’t be ashamed to tell a trusted friend or clergy and enlist their help in gathering resources to help you further. You are not alone. As stated, abuse can be very isolating. The victim is afraid to talk about it. They’re ashamed and embarrassed. They sometimes blame themselves and feel like they got themselves into this or that they deserve it. Sometimes they feel like they stayed this long, why would anyone help now? But YOU are always a good reason to seek help. Your situation is not unique even though it may feel like it is. There are others who have come away from similar situations who are waiting and willing to be a source of support and encouragement. There are services and counseling available-often at no or low cost-for the victim and even for the abuser.
Hope is not lost. Hope is the beginning of healing.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 http://www.thehotline.org/
The ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD
RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) 1-800-656-HOPE